"There are some people born to sing and Mary Hopkin is one of them"
"Luck is when opportunity meets talent", and I think that about sums it up for Mary said David Williams. This statement was made a few months before "Those were the days" was released and catapulted Mary to fame. David had started a group called the "Selby Set & Mary", there were four members, a drummer, two guitar players and Mary who then was just 17. They played rugby clubs and social clubs, and he says of Mary "she had real talent even then".
Another figure who was important to Mary in the early days was a man called Ieuan Lewis, he worked for the local council as did Mary's father, he had a deep interest and wide knowledge of Welsh culture and a vast collection of folk songs. He said of her then, "she was equally good at art, music, singing and she also showed an interest in becoming an actress. but as soon as she started playing the guitar she became a dedicated person". In an early interview he said also of Mary "the picture I have of her is sitting in a park with her guitar surrounded by children and singing one song after another to them, she is a troubadour and like the troubadours of old, she cannot help singing to an audience no matter who. She sings with every part of her including her mind, and that is what makes her different from many other folk singers who sing the words without meaning to a few chords strummed on the guitar. What ever happens I am sure Mary will go on singing..."
The above quotes are taken from some of the earliest paper / magazine articles I have, and sum up exactly what I would like to say but find difficult to put into words. For example one reporter during an interview with Mary asked her if she would mind singing for her, they were at the time in her parents home in Pontardawe in Wales. The reporter says of her "there is no shyness, no protestation, she picks up her guitar, perches on the arm of the chair and starts to sing the song that has made her famous, 'Turn Turn Turn', I am electrified by the transformation in her. She has a maturity, an assurance that so far I have not seen and so far would have thought impossible. Without a trace of self consciousness, her lovely voice soars out..."
The first time I read that article was 30 years ago, and even now when I read it I still feel a little envious. The one thing I have always wanted to hear is Mary's voice with no microphones, just her and her guitar or piano. Not in a big theatre or concert hall, but in a small room whre you could really listen... But I digress, the real reason I re-produced that snippet from a magazine is the part where the interviewer says, "the song that made her famous Turn Turn Turn", she sang it on Opportunity Knocks (the Tv Talent Show), we voted for her in our thousands, because of that voice and that song. We must remember that she was already making records for a local record company called 'Cambrian Recordings', she was appearing on Welsh Television Stations singing her 'type' of music. I have always wondered what would have happened if she had continued to sing 'folk' songs, recorded only folk songs and never appeared on a talent show, would we now have after more than 30 years, 30 albums worth of Mary Hopkin? we will never know...
So the fact that she was spotted and reached stardom at the age of 18 via the Beatles Apple Company was 'luck', but the reason why she is remembered 30 after her phenomenal chart success by so many people throughout the world is 'talent'. Who knows what she might have done musically or what different direction she may have taken with her career if the Apple Launch had not happened, we will never know. She says she is happy and contented with the projects and recordings she is doing now and I wish her well.
But if only she would ..... Ah well there is only so much room on the web......
"Well it all started in a church hall in Cardiff (Capital of Wales) early in 1968", so said Hughie Green compere of the talent show 'Opportunity Knocks'. Mary had gone for an audition which had been arranged for her by a local agent. And on April 28th 1968 she received a telephone call from the TV Studios at Teddington to ask if she could appear on Opportunity Knocks on the 4th of May (the day after her 18th birthday). The West Wales Observer (a local newspaper) carried the headline that Mary was to appear on Hughie Greens programme and also that her first record for 'Cambrian Recordings' (in Welsh) was to be released on May 3rd her 18th Birthday.
She and her family all agreed on the song she should sing, Turn, Turn, Turn which had been found for her by their good friend Ieuan Lewis from his wonderful folk collection. Her appearance was faultless ands she won in the studios and beat a comedian from Swansea called Dave Swann by 3 votes. Little did she think then that she would be travelling up to the studios then in Manchester, for a further 9 consecutive weeks. On the following monday after her first appearance on TV she received a telegram asking her to ring a Peter Brown at Apple Records London. She did so, and spoke to a man with a lovely Liverpool accent. He did not disclose his identity until her mother spoke to him, and he said he was Paul McCartney and could Mary come up to London the following day for an audition. Mary was so excited that she dashed off to tell all her friends, and in no time at all the news had spread like wild fire.
The following morning a chauffeur driven Daimler stopped outside her front door at 7am, whisking Mary and her mother off to London. They were first taken to the Apple Offices which were then in Wigmore Street. Paul met them and took them to lunch, it was then he told them it was actually 'Twiggy' who had seen Mary on 'Opp Knocks' and that he respected Twiggy's taste and had decided to listen to Mary. After lunch Paul took them to Dick James's Studio where Peter Asher taped Mary singing 8 songs, (Oh how I would love to hear them...!) Paul immediately offered her a contract to record for Apple. Later she and her mother were taken out on the town by other Apple executives and their wives to celebrate. It was then Mary learned that she had won Opportunity Knocks for the first time, and had to travel from London to Manchester for a return appearance on the show. The number of votes she received was tremendous a majority of 7,000 above the runner up. When Mary arrived at the studios she received a telegram from the Beatles it read "Lood Gluck and Great Fishes Mary, from John, Paul, George, & Ringo" accompanied by a gigantic box of flowers. Mal Evans flew up to thestudios to represent Apple.
Those were the days
The weeks before the launch of 'Those were the days' is hectic she is now a very famous celebrity and her record has not even been released. Her pictures are not only over the front pages of music papers but in the national newspapers as well. Letters and offers are pouring in from all over the world. Flowers and telegrams are arriving daily, her days are filled with personal appearances, photographic sessions, radio and TV shows and I still add 'Those were the days' has not been heard by anyone.
Was she floating on the fame of the Beatles? I don't think so. Where was the same interest for James Taylor, Jackie Lomax etc. Here was a phenomenon!
The days before the release of her first record were nerve racking, her whole future at that time depended on the success or failure of the record. But then came the earth shattering news that Sandie Shaw had also recorded it and a rush release is being made which would coincide with Mary's date of August 30th. Mary said at the time. "It's no longer my song, everything else I have sung up to now has been done by other singers before me, but this one I really felt would be mine" But what did Apple do? They took a full page advertisment out in major Music Papers which said, "Listen to Mary Hopkin sing Those were the days, Listen to Sandie Shaw's version, then buy the one you like." Mary's comments were "the public will buy the one they like the best".
During the few weeks after the release (Sandies recording of the song is nowhere to be seen) Mary's version goes from strengh to strength and enters the charts at number 18. Moves on up to 6 then 2 and knocks "Hey Jude" off the top, to reach number 1. A little later it starts to move fast up the American "Billboard" charts eventually its a hit all over the world making it one of the fastest selling discs in Britain that year.
Now it all starts, but so does the change in Mary. Once shy and willing to accept anything anyone said because she thought they knew better, now she starts to speak up and also refuses certain engagements that have been set up for her. She now wanted to be consulted first before anything was accepted but the merry-go-round had started. And so the touring starts, apart from the usual round of TV shows and radio shows here in the Uk one in particular sticks in my mind, this was the David Frost Show Special, for the night of the Moon Landings, Mary sang several songs and one in particular was very poignant and that was 'voyage of the moon' from Postcard. She did an extensive British tour with Engelbert Humperdink and soon after that she started to travel around the world. One of the first major overseas tours she undertook was America, Canada and South America. It began with a week in the O'Keefe Centre in Toronto Canada, then down to New York where she spent another week in cabaret at the Americana Hotel. They then travelled to Buenos Aires Argentina for a week of television shows and concerts. She was met at the airport by a huge crowd of fans with banners and bouqets of flowers. They then flew on to Santiago Chile where the reception was even bigger. Finally they arrived in Rio de Janeiro Brazil for one final concert. On the last night there she appeared on her own television programme (oh how I would love to get hold of that as well).
Back home in Britain she did 2 shows in Blackpool, after that she again flew back to the States to appear in two State Fairs, Rochester and Ohio then went on to Los Angeles to record an apprearance on the Andy Williams show.
During the summer of 69 she appeared in a summer show in Blackpool and she started rehearsals for her cabaret stint at the Savoy Hotel which would be in the October, it was during her appearance in Blackpool that Tommy Steele decided to ask Mary if she would appear alongside him in the London Palladium Christmas Pantomime which was to be 'Dick Whittington' also during the same week she was asked by the BBC to represent Britain in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. All this in little more than a year out of school.
During October / November she went to St. Tropez and made a promotional film, it involved walking on a beach promoting what I'm not sure. (If anyone knows 'what' I would be delighted to hear from you). She then appeared on the Tom Jones show which was recorded and screened late November 69, she then started her 3 weeks at the Savoy Hotel. On the first night she suffered badly with nerves, also Paul and Ringo and their wives turned up to support her which added to the tension of first night nerves. They shouted out to her during the performance which made her very anxious, but she got through the 3 weeks. During this time she was also in meetings for the Tommy Steele Panto discussing clothes etc. the rest of the year apart from the Panto was again full of TV shows and one big show in particular called Christmas night with the stars.
So to 1970, the early part of this year was taken up still with the Paladium Panto, but she also had to fit in rehearsals for the 6 songs that were to be used for the selection for the 'Song for Europe'. The songs were to be sung on the Cliff Richard Show, this she did for 6 weeks singing one new song each week, on the 7th week she sang all 6 songs then the TV viewers could write in and vote for their favourite song. And as we all know 'Knock Knock Who's there' won! The Eurovision Song Contest took place in Amsterdam at the International Congress Centre and was televised live to around 400 million viewers including Russia and South America. And as we know she came second, not that the song deserved to win, but as it was said at the time by many, "none of the songs deserved to get 9 votes from one country"!. I am obviously biased and was very young when the contest took place, but I can still remember thinking she was robbed. (has anyone seen the video of the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest? if you can get hold of a copy watch the voting at the end and see what you think! But anyway it was a long time ago...
April and May were taken up with TV shows, she also started to learn classical guitar for the first time. She attended the premiere of 'Let it Be' then it was off to Japan to represent Apple at Expo 70. She was met at Tokyo Airport by a huge crowd of Fans and presented with bouquets etc. She stayed for press interviews and then flew flew on to Osaka in the South of Japan where the concerts would be taking place. There were 7 concerts in all, she was supported by Gallagher and Lyle and the guitarist Paco Pena. Gallagher and Lyle opened the show, Paco Pena then played and Mary closed the show with a 40 minute set. When she arrived back in Britain it was straight to Blackpool where she spent the summer in a seaside show.
A New Bard
During the Summer she had a wonderful honour bestowed on her by her country, she was made a Bard of the Gorsedd. The ceremony took place at Ammanford Carmarthenshire which was the host town for that years Royal National Eisteddfod The ceremony was held around the Gorsedd Circle, similar to the Druid Circle of old. She stood on a rain swept mountainside to receive the honour which is reserved for Welsh men and Women who make an outstanding contribution to 'Welsh Cultural Life'. She stepped into the centre of the Gorsedd Circle (stonehenge type) made up of 13 stones, one for each Welsh County, she touched the huge sword of peace, and standing in front of the 'Logan Stone' was welcomed to the circle by the then Arch Druid Reverend Gwilym Tilsley. She had taken the bardic name of 'Mari Hopcyn' (a name she used in school when taking part in Welsh Plays etc.) She was initiated into the order as a "Welsh Girl who has won European fame as an interpreter of contemporary folk music"
Here is an extract from the 'Friendly Society Newsletter' written by Mrs ELizabeth Hopkin which gives an account of the ceremony.
Only a Royal visit said the papers, could have exceeded the warm welcome accorded Mary. She flew from Blackpool after the last show on Wednesday night and arrived at Swansea airport at 12.30am, where after she had been interviewed for 'good Morning Wales' the 8am radio programme she gave press interviews and arrived home at 2.30am.
Hundreds passed the Gorsedd circle and its approaches and also upstairs windows long before the colourful prcession for the weeks second Gorsedd Ceremony. Some children had taken up places near the circle soon afer 8.00am. Mary was the first of a long list of 28 names to be called forward by Archdruid Tilsley who conferred on her the self chosen bardic name of Mari Hopcyn. The rain came down just after the last had been initiated, among them being the well known Wynford Vaughn Thomas, commentator and broadcaster, also Alun Williams of the BBC, in Wales. Mary hopes to attend Gorsedd ceromonies in the future and would like to sing with the harp at the circle. She was very thrilled to be made an honorary bard - to receive the tribute of Wales's own honours list. She chose the name Mari Hopcyn because her Welsh master, Mr Eic Davies at the Grammer School always called her by that name when she was taking part in the school Welsh plays. Her Welsh records are being despatched in their hundreds to Japan, Germany, Austria, etc., where her 'fans' are learning Welsh. I received several letters from Japanese teenagers this week, partly written in Welsh. one boy wrote a post-script - 'Cofiwch fi at eich merch' which means "Remember me to your daughter"; and after all it means that Mary is helping to promote the Welsh language in countries that might never hear it, and this pleases her very much.